Identifying Underlying Dimensions in Spouses' Evaluations of Fairness in the Division of Household Labor

Herbert L. Smith, Constance T. Gager, S. Philip Morgan

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41 Scopus citations


Using the first wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH-I), we analyze the joint distribution of wives' and husbands' answers regarding whether the division of household chores is "fair." Responses comprise a 5-point scale, from "very unfair to me" to "very unfair to her/him" with "fair to both" as a middle category. It is well known that wives are more likely than husbands to report that the division of household labor is "unfair to me," but this does not begin to exploit the information contained in these paired (wife/husband) data. Correlational measures suggest that agreement between wives and husbands is low, but the absolute levels of agreement are high, since, in the majority of couples, both spouses say the situation is "fair to both." The association is well captured by a restricted version of the log-linear model for quasi-symmetry. This model suggests a two-dimensional latent trait model for the pattern of couple-specific responses. Additional analyses indicate that the NSFH-I "fairness" item is a convolution of responses along two dimensions - one reflecting "relative fairness" (e.g., fair to one spouse compared to the other's contribution), the other a tendency on the part of many couples to report "fair to both" regardless of the "true" level of fairness between the wife and husband. This multidimensionality shows that there are difficulties in analyzing this item that have been hitherto unremarked upon in the literature. We argue that the latent trait perspective suggests that evaluations of equity need to be interpreted in terms of characteristics of couples, or marriages, not just in terms of the characteristics of wives and/or husbands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-327
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1998


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